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Adult video store owners consider legal action

Maryland – from www.gazette.net – Clinton resident Peter Beck stocks almost 5,000 regular titles at Clinton Video, from new releases, comedies and action flicks to several hundred children’s movies. But his collection of 3,000 additional adult films — most of them X-rated — may put him out of business.

Beck, who has lived in Clinton for 12 years, is among several local video store owners upset about new zoning restrictions passed unanimously by the Prince George’s County Council on Sept. 9. The two bills redefine adult video and book stores as any business where more than 10 percent of space open to the public contains adult materials.

The new laws will affect 14 stores in the county, including two in Clinton. Stores that fall under the new laws will be required to reduce their stock or move to specially zoned areas.

Businesses have until January 2011 to comply with the new restrictions. In the meantime, Beck is among several store owners considering legal action against the county.

At Clinton Video, which opened in 2002, adult titles make up almost 40 percent of the store’s stock, Beck said, and at least 50 percent of his profit. Any reduction in the number of adult films, Beck said, let alone a 30 percent reduction to meet the new restrictions, would force him to move or close altogether.

“Instead of dealing with it as a public nuisance, they’ve gone after every legitimate store in the county,” he said, referring to arguments by advocates of the new restrictions that certain stores are magnets for illicit activities. “There isn’t a speck of dust outside my store.”

Video Movie Liquidators — the other Clinton store that falls under the new restrictions — is also kept afloat financially by its adult film section, which takes up 30 percent of the store’s floor space.

The store’s owner, who declined to be named due to threats he has received related to his store’s adult materials, said the availability of adult material online is already hurting business. The new restrictions, he said, will force him to move or close his three stores in Clinton, Laurel and Greenbelt and lay off employees.

Annapolis-based lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who is representing Clinton Video and stores in College Park and Temple Hills, said he is advising owners to sue. He said the legal arguments vary from the fact that the new restrictions could cause owners to break leases to the uncertainty of available space in the specially zoned areas.

“Some people don’t like adult book stores,” he said. “They’re entitled to their opinion, but they can’t impair someone else’s contractual relationships and livelihood and way of life.”

Pushing store owners out of the county is not what council members say they intended. Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said the council even removed licensing fees and extended deadlines to help owners adjust.

Dernoga, a leading proponent of the bills, said stores that stock any amount of adult materials can, at worst, attract illegal activities and, at best, hurt development.

“They tend to discourage more desirable businesses from locating near them,” he said. “They add to the blight that’s out there.”

David Billings, a spokesman for Council Chairwoman Marilyn Bland (D-Dist. 5) of Clinton, said Bland has also received unconfirmed complaints from residents that the two Clinton stores were used as a place to set up sexual meetings.

Dernoga said existing laws were unenforceable after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found sections unconstitutional in 2003. The council based the new restrictions on those in Littleton, Colo., which were upheld by the Supreme Court in 2004.

Residents and anti-pornography advocacy groups in favor of the new restrictions argue that any secondary effects of adult stores outweigh the risk of closed businesses.

“That industry should have some regulations like everything else,” said Eva Murphy, legislative chairwoman of the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography, which pushed for the new restrictions. Adult films can feed pornography addictions or disturb children who might accidentally see films in the stores, she added.

If video stores are hurt financially, she said, “they can just increase their videos for more wholesome viewing.”

But some owners say they can’t compete with big chain stores when it comes to new releases and other non-X-rated fare, which can cost more to stock than older movies and adult films.

“We’re just being pushed aside,” Beck said. “But we haven’t given up.”

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